Virtual reality sounds cool, but can it actually help schools teach math?  (Opinion)

Virtual reality sounds cool, but can it actually help schools teach math? (Opinion)

Virtual reality sounds cool but is it practically useful in schools? reality prisms think the answer is definitely “yes”. Prisms, launched in 2019, strives to integrate virtual reality into algebra for partners including the New York City Department of Education and KIPP charter schools. I recently spoke with Anurupa Ganguly, the founder and CEO of Prisms, to learn more about her vision for virtual reality and its potential impact on math education.

-grinding wheel

grinding wheel: OK, so tell me a bit about Prisms.

Anurupa: Prisms is the first spatial learning platform for teaching mathematics. Supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, we’re using virtual reality to scale a new way to learn basic math and science concepts that build confidence in the math classroom. We do this by fully immersing students in relevant issues. For example, students take on the role of an air traffic controller and construct linear equations to model two flight paths destined for collision, or they step into the shoes of a city planner to experience the impacts of urbanization and create a quadratic equation to design a green space of maximum size for a city. By solving them, they gain foundational STEM skills from grades 7-11 and exposure to the many applications of mathematical modeling today. Our learning solution has four key components; learning modules, a data dashboard for teachers to track student progress, a curriculum with offline activities, and ongoing professional development. This school year, we launched two courses on Prisms: Algebra 1 and Geometry.

grinding wheel: Technology can get quite intimidating. Can you explain to me what students and teachers actually do when they use Prisms?

Anurupa: When students put on their helmets, they put themselves in the shoes of a practitioner – it could be a glaciologist, a real estate developer, a small business owner – and are given a mission. For example, in our Exponential Functions module, students work to create a mathematical model to determine when hospitals in a city will run out of available rooms after responding to incoming patients exposed to a virus. They experience a virus spreading from person to person in a food hall, then go to the Prisms lab to create charts, graphs and finally equations to solve the problem and contain the virus . Meanwhile, teachers can track student progress on a web-based analytics dashboard and provide real-time feedback to help students at critical times while using the VR headset. This allows the teacher to continue to coach and mentor each student as they work at their own pace of learning.

grinding wheel: How does virtual reality help math education?

Anurupa: Think back to how you learned about exponential growth in your high school algebra class. This is likely to trigger memories of writing equations over and over again without a meaningful understanding of the structure of a function. Virtual reality helps to disrupt this proceduralization by centering the teaching of mathematics around a real problem. Students can then learn to create mathematical models in 3D space that includes touch, sound, motion, and rich visualizations. The main indicators of success in STEM are your ability to reason spatially and your ability to create abstract models of real situations. Virtual reality is in a unique position to develop these skills. As one of our students said, “doing math” in this new way made her want to do even more math and helped her gain the confidence to participate more actively in class. getting involved in the engineering club and with Girls Who Code, and changing her career path to pursue a future in STEM.

grinding wheel: How did you get into this job?

Anurupa: I studied electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and observed first-hand the mindsets and skills needed to succeed in the mathematical sciences, especially in historically underserved communities. After graduating, I became a high school physics and math teacher to better understand what was happening in K-12 math and science, which helped level the playing field in engineering and science. mathematical sciences for students living in poverty. Since then, I have held a number of leadership positions in STEM districts in the largest education systems in the United States, including the New York Department of Education, Boston Public Schools, and Charter Schools. from Success Academy. Through my experience as a district and charter administrator, I have found that there is a huge discrepancy between what science learning tells us about how we learn best and the tools that teachers and children have in their hands. So I founded Prisms to create a math learning solution that represents everything we know about the best way to learn math.

grinding wheel: What is the cost of Prisms for schools?

Anurupa: The software license is $12 per student per year, which includes access to all of our virtual reality learning modules, synchronous teacher dashboard, curriculum and activities, and assistance with implementation of our customer success team. Each set of VR headsets and charging stations costs between $13,500 and $21,000 and can be shared among multiple classrooms and teachers because VR is not an everyday learning tool in the classroom. school year. School district leaders or teachers can submit a contact form on our website to access our learning platform. For all home learners and parents, this month we will be launching our Content Libraries and Sandbox in the Oculus Store.

grinding wheel: So how many students do you currently serve?

Anurupa: We currently serve more than 20,000 students in more than 55 school districts across the country and will reach 100,000 students this fall. Our middle school math and algebra 2 courses will be released at the end of calendar year 2022 and science courses will be released in July 2023.

grinding wheel: Is there evidence that this approach works?

Anurupa: We conducted an initial efficacy study during our National Science Foundation Phase I research. The study found that, on average, there was a double-digit learning gain for students at the end of the Prisms Exponential Functions module in Algebra 1, compared to standards-aligned benchmarks. These results served as a springboard for further studies conducted by WestEd, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research agency. The classroom feasibility study conducted in spring 2022 showed that not only is Prisms VR feasible in the formal math classroom – with over 80% of students saying VR lessons helped them better understand math concepts – but that the impact on student engagement and confidence, effectiveness in learning abstract ideas, and improving standards-based competence are significant. Our randomized controlled trial in 36 school districts began in August. The results of the three studies will be available in the winter of 2022.

grinding wheel: If you had to give any advice to teachers who are interested in the possibilities of virtual reality, what would it be?

Anurupa: Now is the time for VR in education. Hardware and software techniques have evolved enormously, which has created fertile ground for high-quality content. Advanced technology coupled with affordability of materials has opened a window of opportunity for teachers looking for effective ways to re-engage students and address learning loss resulting from the pandemic. This is an incredible opportunity to accelerate learning in key areas that have been at the center of endless remediation cycles due to inadequate tools until now.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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